“Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
The best learning combines advancing academic knowledge with experiences that encourage the student to fully discover themselves. I craved and created these experiences for myself.
It’s hard to sum up my college experience in words, pictures, even a website. Here you will find a peek into the experiences that added THE most growth to the last four years of my life at UW.
Backpacking with my Professor
I took this Honors “class” the summer after my sophomore year. I grew up skiing and hiking in the Cascades with my Dad, so when I found out I could get Honors AND Environmental Studies credit for a 10-day backpacking trip through the Olympic Mountains – I jumped on the opportunity. This experience stands out to me when I look back on my college career because for the first time I was experiencing what I learned in my Environmental Studies classes. I experienced the environmental psychology anxiety-release that comes from spending at least three days in nature without any electronics. We saw receded snow levels compared to where Tim told us they were the last few years he has led this trip. We investigated the charred trees from a naturally-caused (climate change induced) forest fire the summer before. Not to mention the personal strength and confidence I gained – trust in my body and mind – that the trip brought me. This course raised my standards for learning experiences for the years to follow.
Spending four months studying abroad in Iceland and Greenland was perhaps the most influential part of my four years. I got to experience climate change first hand and finally envision a career path that felt fulfilling. I attended the Arctic Circle Conference where I met heroes in all industries.
This month changed my life. My first time in a third-world country, for the first time I fully felt the impact of my privilege. After my semester in Iceland, I found myself itching to explore parts of the world that were more unfamiliar. Studying biodiversity, conservation, and sustainability in Peru seemed like the perfect opportunity. A couple moments in particular stand out to me.
I vividly remember the second night of the program. We camped at the Limonal Ranger Station along the Manu River to get some sleep before embarking for Cocha Cashu Biological Station the next morning. My tent mate Lizzy and I were struggling to set up our tent in the dark. Bugs the size of my big toe flew everywhere. We were both sweating profusely even at 10pm. We finally managed to figure out the poles and got ready to dive in. On the count of three, we opened the zippers and frantically climbed in, zipping our flaps up behind us as quickly as possible to avoid sleeping with more bugs than necessary. We lay on top our sleeping bags for a few minutes, breathing heavily, still dripping with sweat. I thought back to the pointless sponge bath I had attempted to give myself after dinner an our ago. “Lizzy?” I said. “Yeah…” she panted. “What in the world are we doing here?”
Looking back now, those uncomfortable moments of our trip taught me to trust myself, my circumstances, and my teammates.
The next portion of our trip included ten days at the world-renowned Cocha Cashu Biological Field Station. Though the humidity and bugs had not gone anywhere, we finally had a home base to unpack some of our things, a platform for our tents, and composting toilets! The real reason we came – wildlife. One day after a long morning of field work collecting data on mammal species richness with our camera traps, I remember coming back and thinking how good a nap sounded. I had now spent 7 days straight with this tight group of people at a tiny research station. My group was ahead and done with our work for the day, so I snuck off to my tent. I must have fallen asleep, but the next thing I remember is waking up to something screaming. I pop up and see shadows of branches waving furiously above my tent. It sounded like an animal. Soon enough the entire class had gathered around to observe the monkey meeting occurring in the tree above as I groggily stumbled out of my tent. My not-so-secret-anymore nap turned into a moment of wonder as I gazed upon the seven species of monkeys bargaining, playing, shouting above me.
I had never been to Asia before this trip. When my favorite professor Kristi announced she would be leading a two-week study abroad in China during winter break, I knew I had to go. (Notice how the more foreign the study abroad, the shorter the time-frame becomes). This trip definitely felt short compared to the others, but turned out to be the perfect ending to my international adventures sponsored by UW. We learned that China actually has far more environmental regulation and policy than the U.S. While many Americans think that China is a huge polluter, the U.S. per capita and cumulative carbon dioxide emissions remain far higher. China taught me once again that the rest of the world DOES take environmental degradation seriously – at least acknowledges their existence – and takes steps toward solving the problem.